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Catherine

An action-adventure puzzle video game developed and published by Atlus.

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Surviving a Nightmare

  • Aug 9, 2011
Rating:
+5
Catherine has been a game that several fans of ATLUS have been waiting for... and nervous about for some time.  It is quite a unique experience in the sense of its narrative because there's nothing quite like it out there.  And it shows, of all of Atlus's releases, Catherine had the biggest debut of all of their releases.  And truth be told, it's well deserved.  Simply put, only a handful of gamers will have ever experienced something like Catherine.  And it isn't how the gameplay adds up that makes it so... it's quite literally the narrative and how it unfolds.  If you're a fan of stepping into something different with gaming... you need to play this game.

Catherine follows the tale of Vincent.  A man in his early 30's who is dating a woman named Katherine (with a "K").  They've been together for five years now and she wants to take the relationship to the next level.  Something Vincent isn't quite ready for.  One night while out with friends he has a couple of drinks and meets a mysterious young woman named Catherine (with a "C") and this begins an affair.  This is how the story begins and ultimately (as you'd expect) there's a lot more to the story than this.  Narrative is at the forefront in Catherine, however and it shows.  The production values are excellent.  Watching the various cut scenes actually draws you into the story because it's so well presented.  The characters can also draw you in.  From Katherine's somewhat dominating nature to Catherine's seductive overtones... it's hard not to latch on to some of these characters.  In particular the gamer actually feels for Vincent in his moment of confusion.  Here is a man who is in a current relationship that is on the rocks... has cheated, knows he's done wrong but is conflicted over what he wants.  Is he ready to sit down and take responsibility in his life or is there still some fun to be had?  The point of Catherine on the whole is to decide what Vincent wants.

This is where some of the game's most interesting moments come into play.  As you play through Vincent's day you'll receive texts, talk to various characters at the bar.  There are moments where you have a chance to respond.  And yes, these have an impact on how Vincent will react in certain cut scenes.  Likewise, you can answer text messages and depending on how you answer them is quite important to how things unfold as well.  When you make these decisions, a meter appears in the corner showing which way you're tilting.  Is it toward the fun-loving and chaotic nature of freedom, or is it toward the laid back more toned down path?  Freedom or responsibility?

What makes this mechanic brilliant is that there is no "good" or "bad".  There's no "Lawful or Chaotic" and there is no, "Good or Evil."  All choices have an effect but the game is constantly pushing you to be honest with your choices.  And in some instances there will be choices you THOUGHT were more leaning toward the "responsible" side actually lead more toward that "chaotic" side.  So you might as well be honest because unlike most games there just isn't a right or wrong answer.  There is no upside to picking Katherine over Catherine or vice versa.  As I've said: Vincent is conflicted and in a state where you, the player, have to figure out what is best for him.  It is the rare instance where the game's main protagonist is truly projected through the player.  Very few games add that layer of complexity with their "good/bad" "Evil/Good" kind of bars.  In most games it is usually obvious what would do what and what path you'll go down.  Here the story still unfolds as it should, the difference is that there is no good and evil here... just Vincent battling his own inner demons.  And no area showcases this more fantastically than the gameplay.

During the day we see Vincent struggle to come to terms with what he wants.  During the night when he goes to be, however, he has nightmare dreams unlike any other.  Someone put him there because some wants him dead.  So every night when he dreams he has to survive the nightmare or be killed in real life.  This is where gameplay takes center stage.  Vincent's nightmares are not for the feint of heart, however.  In each nightmare he must scale a large tower by moving blocks out and climbing.  It begins simple at first, but as time goes on he'll come across crumbling blocks or sheep that are scaling the tower that will knock him off.  There are also spike traps, ice blocks etc.  All these are progressively introduced.  At best Catherine is a puzzle based game.  But you can't just take your sweet little time.  The lower floors of the tower keep falling away as you climb.

The game seems simple in premise but it's actually quite hard.  The helpful tutorials at the beginning of the game help immensely, but you'll get no where if you don't talk to others trapped in the nightmare during the interludes between stages.  Here some characters will swap techniques with you (which you'll see a video to show what they're saying) or others who might sell you useful items you can use.

There are also "boss" towers to scale where Vincent is haunted by his biggest fears.  As much as I'd love to talk about these they'd spoil some of the fun surprises the game has in store.  As you reach the top of each tower you'll be ranked based on how fast you got there and how many piles of gold coins you picked up along the way. 

It's a game that's easy to learn but incredibly difficult to master.  If there is one thing an ATLUS game will rarely do, it's skimp on the difficulty.  Catherine is no exception.  Some of the puzzles can be challenging.  Especially because luck won't get you by here.  It's all skill.  And while there are various difficulty levels (including a hidden "Very Easy" mode) your best bet is to start on the standard otherwise you'll lose out on the experience of some of the game's unique puzzles.

On the other hand this is also what has the potential to turn off gamers.  In a gaming world that is slowly shunning the idea of failure, those who are more used to current generation games won't like being punished by Catherine time and time again.  It goes back to certain old school methods such as having a limited number of tries and, above all, being designed in such a way that losing isn't a big deal... but it's costly to the player.  A lot of games now tend to have you starting directly where you died at or just paces behind, but Catherine goes back to the old school method of, "You screwed up... do it again."  No amount of luck is going to get you through Catherine.  There are checkpoints in each level thankfully but many gamers are likely to be too frustrated with Catherine in certain regards. 

Some of it isn't made any easier by the game itself.  The controls can be, at times, finnicky.  It's a little too easy to shove a block where you didn't want it to or to move Vincent in the wrong direction when he tries to shimmy along the blocks he's hanging off of.  Luckily the game lets you rewind back moves.  And you'll probably have to do this a lot of the time.  Catherine is fun if you're a gamer that likes to be challenged but it definitely isn't for the feint of heart or easily frustrated gamer.

In between the stages you'll also sit and answer questions to a mysterious voice.  Much like the choices you make in Vincent's real life, there are no right or wrong answers here.  But it's also the moment where you should be the most honest.  You'll be asked questions where the decision isn't really so cut and dry.  They make a difference.  And much like in Vincent's real life you'll come into moments where the answer just might have the opposite effect of what you expect.  But also like the real game there is no right or wrong answer. 

As interesting as the gameplay is, it is no where near as interesting as the narrative scope, which is where the heart of the game is anyway.  The story in and of itself is very interesting and the idea that you are not just exploring Vincent's desires, but perhaps even your own (if you're being honest) is amusing.  Where so many games make their choices obviously good or bad, Catherine opts for ambiguity in most of its instances.  It's engaging.  Where replay is concerned, however, is a different story.  If you didn't find yourself too frustrated, you might want to attempt the game again.  There are multiple endings to behold and you can always try and take yourself through each level as fast as possible for better scores.  The reason to experience the game, however, is definitely the narrative.  It's bold and refreshing in a market that is constantly filled with one sequel after the next and games that usually involve you roaming down corridors shooting aliens or gunning down enemy soldiers.  Catherine may just feel like a bit of fresh air only because it's so different from everything else on the market right now.  It's maturity doesn't come from it's violence (which is very tame and mostly occurs when you or one of the other sheep climbing die) but rather form the situations in which the characters are actually in.  And Catherine handles much of it quite beautifully.  This is saying A LOT for a medium that has defined "maturity" as being about how much blood splatters on screen rather than watching actual human situations carry out. 

The point is that Catherine reaches higher--and farther--than most games before it.  It may not do it on a gameplay level very much, but from a narrative scope it does more than just hand you a situation and paint it in black or white.  Vincent isn't just, "A jerk who cheated on his girlfriend," and Katherine isn't just "the ball and chain to Vincent" and Catherine isn't just "The whore."  The characters have depth that makes some of them more complex than what the beginning moments of the game let on.  And it ultimately helps them become interesting characters.  Catherine isn't just diving into the mind of Vincent, it seems to strive (very hard at times) to show us a part of ourselves... or at the very least bring attention to it.  For a video game that's a BIG deal.  Catherine isn't a mindless romp, there's actually quite a bit of depth here.

For those who enjoy storytelling and narrative, Catherine is a game worth playing because it does that particular aspect so well.  The characters have life and are particularly amusing.  It can be challenging at times but for the story alone (for those who can make it past the challenging puzzles) it's worth it.

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August 17, 2011
Good stuff, Sean! You answered the question about this game that most other reviews haven't touched...does it have depth? I hoped it did, but all anyone else talks about is the odd gameplay or the sexy cover variations. Thanks for taking some time to answer the right questions. This actually makes me want to try it!
August 18, 2011
It's definitely a good game, just somewhat challenging.  But the story and the characters are actually quite absorbing.
 
1
More Catherine reviews
Quick Tip by . February 21, 2011
posted in Siliconera Bounce
Atlus never fails to satisfy, and with Shoji Meguro's musical skills this game will hold Persona fans till Persona 5 is released even though it's not an RPG
Quick Tip by . February 21, 2011
posted in Siliconera Bounce
A story about the complexity of human relationships. Do we really love our other half or maybe we're searching for something more?. Mature issues such as love, sex and marriage are part of this game. As Vincent, you begin a quest of hellish survival in a nightmare world after spending the night with the apparently young but charming Catherine. What the relationship between Catherine and the nightmare world....? In my opinion a game , A game that breaks the mold and stands out for it mature tones, …
Quick Tip by . February 21, 2011
posted in Siliconera Bounce
This game is one of those games that dares to be different, not only with it's story, but also with it's gameplay.
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #6
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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Wiki

Catherine is an upcoming action-adventure puzzle video game developed and published by Atlus for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The game will be Atlus’ first game for seventh-generation consoles in high definition, described as an 'adult' title by the game's character designer, Shigenori Soejima. The cinematic portion of the game is handled by Studio 4°C. The game will be released in Japan on February 17, 2011, whilst release in other regions has yet to be announced.
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Details

Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus Persona Team
Console: PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action Adventure
Release Date: February 17, 2011
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